Hisham: It's up to panel to judge

KUALA LUMPUR: The independent panel formed to investigate the MH370 incident should state whether the four-hour gap between the plane's disappearance and the authorities' response to it was too much time wasted, said Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.

The acting Transport Minister, in defending the gap, compared it to the seven-hour lapse during the Air France disaster.

"Each case is different. In this case, we took four hours to respond to the disappearance.

"I was informed that in the Air France case, it was six to seven hours before any response was activated.

"We leave it to the independent panel to judge the four-hour gap," he said at a press conference here yesterday.

The Paris-bound AF447 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, after taking off from Rio de Janeiro, killing 228 passengers and crew.

The Malaysian authorities had come under fire from some quarters for the four-hour gap, with many saying that it was too long a time.

Insisting that Malaysia had "nothing to hide", Hishammuddin said the issue of whether the time was reasonable should be left to the experts to decide.

On the preliminary report on MH370 being a mere five pages against AF447's that numbered some 200 pages, Hishammuddin pointed out the latter indeed had more information to detail.

"We based our report on every information we have that does not jeopardise the ongoing investigation.

"In the Air France incident, they had already found debris, which confirmed the plane had crashed, so they had additional information to report," he said.

He noted that the MH370 preliminary report, which was released on Thursday, had excluded information that was found to be untrue, such as claims of sighted debris and a safe landing in Nanning, China.

At the press conference, the Department of Civil Aviation said the independent panel would decide on the 17-minute gap between the plane's last connection with the Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control Centre and the call from Ho Chi Minh saying that no contact was established with the plane.

"We directed the pilots to change frequency to connect with Ho Chi Minh when we handed them over after they got in touch at (Waypoint) Igari (in the South China Sea).

"What happened at the point of transfer and why 17 minutes had passed before any alert, is up to the investigative team to decide," said DCA director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman.

MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the company was working to strengthen its mode of tracking planes to prevent such incidents from happening again.

He also declined to disclose the amount of compensation that would be paid out soon to the next of kin.